Presented on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 online as part of the 2020 Spring Trouble Begins Lecture Series.
In 1908, when Sam Clemens moved into his Italianate mansion, Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut, he seemed to have turned the page on his sadness of recent years and begun a happy chapter. About a year later, this happiness was disrupted by a scandal: his personal secretary Isabel Lyon and his business manager Ralph Ashcroft betrayed his trust. Mark Twain addressed their deceptions in his final text, the "Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript," a tortured piece of writing in which he struggles to come to terms with their treachery. In this presentation, Howe will offer an account of the events and Twain's text that disputes criticism of the manuscript as evidence of his irascibility and exhausted talent. Instead, Howe will show how the text's compositional problems provide insight into Clemens's vulnerability in the last state of his life. In light of the evidence proving that the trusted couple exploited him, the text documents a crime that we now recognize as elder abuse. Twain's emotional tone in this text signals how unsettling this nearly disastrous episode was for him. Indeed, the Ashcroft-Lyon manuscript is his attempt to regain control of his life by the means he knew best - through narrative.
Lawrence Howe is Professor of English and Film Studies at Roosevelt University, past-president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, and editor of Studies in American Humor. His publications include Mark Twain and Money: Language, Capital, and Culture, edited with Henry Wonham, and Mark Twain and the Novel: The Double-Cross of Novelistic Discourse. He is currently at work on a book on Twain and property. He has lectured throughout the United States and Europe on Mark Twain and other topics in American culture.
June 22, 2020 Subject:
An absorbing account of a late, sad episode in Mark Twain’s life. Howe first lays out the details of the Ashcroft-Lyons conspiracy to gain Clemens’s trust and then drain off his money. Twain, he reminds us, did not let the episode go quietly; In 1908 he wrote more than 400 manuscript pages recording the couple’s nefarious dealings. While other scholars have lamented this manuscript as evidence of Twain’s failing literary powers, Howe sees it as Twain’s attempt to understand the episode in terms of what we would call Elder Abuse. A cogent, well-planned lecture, full of information and careful thinking. Highly recommended!